Press Box Perspective: Whole lotto love

National Basketball Association’s Draft Lottery needs to be updated

By Peter Melling /// Sports Editor

It is a considerably popular opinion that the National Basketball Association’s Draft Lottery is a flawed process. Many people have claimed that the league rigs it and that too many teams that do need help often miss the higher picks that could improve their squad dramatically. The system involves 14 teams (that missed the playoffs that season) receiving balls with their names on them. An official then places the balls in a clear bowl, shuffles them, and picks one ball to determine draft order. The procedure receives proposals for improvement regularly. These proposals range in spectrum, with some of them more radical than others.

Proposal #1 – Reforming the Lotto Process

This proposal adjusts the current draft lottery to produce better/more fair results for the teams involved. The most obvious reformation that this updated lottery would make would be to limit the amount of times any team can get the #1 overall pick. Under this new system, a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers (who have held the #1 overall pick in three of the past four drafts, yet have still not made the playoffs and gotten out of the lottery) could only hold that #1 pick once every three or four years. If they did land the #1 pick multiple times within three or four years of the 1st #1 pick, they would have to forfeit the #1 spot to another team that has not had that pick within the past three or four years (i.e. the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s draft). However, this poses a significant problem: giving up a #1 pick is never a good idea, even if the team continues to be incompetent and miss the playoffs. Also, how do you control who gets the forfeited #1 pick? Should it be whoever gets the #2 pick, or should it be the team with the worst record in the league? Additionally, should each team be given equal chances in the lotto, or should the worst teams in any given year receive the higher odds they usually do? This could make the lotto even more of a mess, and leads right into the next proposed reform.

Proposal #2 – The Draft Wheel

A proposal that has gained some significant traction lately is the idea of a draft wheel. This system is a wheel that would give all 30 teams in the league a predetermined spot each year for draft picks that would shift every year. In an example from Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the team with the #1 pick in the first year would get these picks for the first six years of the system: #1, #30, #19, #18, #7, #6. This system would mean that every team knows going into the season what draft pick they will get, which would therefore avert tanking to get high picks and lopsided draft trades that some claim is a problem in the current NBA draft system. However, it does not accomplish what a draft should accomplish for any league: help bring bad teams out of the red and improve their rosters. Under this system, a team with the worst record in the league might only get the 21st pick in the draft, which would eliminate many of the best college players from their grasp. It could also make good teams even better, which could divide the talent disparity in the NBA even more. While it may be a solution to the problems posed by the lottery, it is far from perfect. What can solve the problem of the NBA draft system?

Proposal #3 – The NFL-style System

This is probably the most obvious solution to the Draft Lottery – completely eliminating it. In this system, the team with the worst record picks first, and each non-playoff team receives a pick based on their record (playoff teams get their picks determined by how they finished in the playoffs, with the champion picking last). This is the model that the NFL uses now, and the model that the NBA used until the first draft lotto in 1985. Ultimately, this mode of draft does encourage tanking to get a higher pick and various varieties of draft trades, but will ultimately give each team a fair representation in the draft based on their record. It also eliminates any conspiracies about draft rigging, as there would be no faulty process determining who picks where. It may not be perfect, but it does eliminate all the procedural headaches and logistical problems associated with the lottery or the wheel. It is the perfect solution, and even though the league may want to move forward in their processes, the best fix for the draft is simplification.

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